Today I met Gretchen Rubin, a New York Times bestselling author, as she celebrated her newest book release, The Four Tendencies. I hadn’t heard about Rubin before attending the event, but since I’m continuing to research personality characteristics to help my fictional characters come to life, Rubin’s book title intrigued me. In her talk, Rubin shared that her book, The Four Tendencies, focuses less on specific personality types or temperaments, and more on an “expectations framework” – how a person responds to the inner and outer expectations placed upon them. Here’s how she breaks down these four characteristics:
A. Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations. They value authenticity and self-determination.
B. Questioners meet only inner expectations. They push back against and question all expectations. Above all, they do something only if they think it makes sense — they hate anything arbitrary.
C. Obligers meet outer expectations but not always inner ones. In other words, they usually need some form of external accountability.
D. Upholders generally meet both inner and outer expectations, meaning they don’t let others or themselves down.
Over the past few months, I’ve researched several personality/character indicators to get a feel for the positive and negative sides of typical thought and behavior patterns. This serves as a checklist to help me see if my fictional characters are acting true to their given natures (personality temperaments) that I’ve assigned them. It also provides me with an easy list of what their inherent weaknesses and strengths are. I can use their weakness to increase conflict and use their strengths to help them overcome their fears and conquer their problems and conflict – all while staying true to their assigned character traits, making them more believable as a real people.
1. Expectations Framework and the Four Personality Temperaments: Rubin believes her Expectations Framework can float on top of any of the four personality temperaments, but having researched these personality types for the past several months, I can also see how they might link up with them. Sites I have explored included descriptions and self-quizzes, as one from Psychologia and, for ease of use, a personality type calculator. The four temperaments are said to influence appearance, thinking, behavior, and possibly even career choices. One site states that the “origins of this typology belong to Graeco-Arabic medicine where it was successfully used to treat illnesses.” These types were originally labeled:
A. Choleric (Rubin’s Rebel)
B. Melancholic (Rubin’s Questioners)
C. Sanguine (Rubin’s Obligers)
D. Phlegmatic (Rubin’s Upholders)
To help our modern minds better grasp the distinctions between these four types, some descriptive names have been attached to these ancient Latin and Greek names by various researchers, authors and trainers. Several of these are explained below.
2. The Smalley Institute
As a writer, I found the Smalley Institute examination of temperaments most helpful because this assessment tool focuses on viewing personality types in terms of how they affect relationships, a very important element in developing fictional stories. Smalley also links animal images to each of the temperaments:
A. Choleric – Lion (bold)
B. Melancholic – Beaver (careful, busy worker)
C. Sanguine – Otter (playful)
D. Phlegmatic – Golden Retriever (loyal)
The Smalley Institute also charts each style’s relational strength to illustrate how these strengths look when they get out of balance (for example, when a character experiences stress or conflict), as well as each type’s dominant communication style, relational needs, and the relational balance each type brings into a relationship. A download of the chart is available here.
3. The Anatomy of Love – Dr. Helen Fisher
This site focuses on personality types through the lenses of relationships and work, typifying these four traits as:
A. Choleric – Director
B. Melancholic – Builder
C. Sanguine – Explorer
D. Phlegmatic – Negotiator
4. Jung and Myer Briggs
The Jung’s/Myer Briggs assessment focus on four personal preference opposites:
1) E/I: Extrovert, a preference for people and things vs.
Introvert, a preference for ideas and information
2) S/N: Sensing, a preference for facts and reality vs.
intuitioN, with a preference for possibilities and potential
3) T/F: Thinking and feeling, with a preference to rely on logic and truth vs.
Feeling, valuing relationship
4) J/P: Judgment, a preference for a lifestyle that is well-structured vs.
Perception, preferring a lifestyle that goes with the flow
Because the Myer Briggs assessment focuses on four personality type opposites, there are, in reality, sixteen types provided here.
To put Myer Briggs into the context of our four temperaments, however, we can break it down into these four generic categories:
A. Choleric – ENTJ
B. Melancholic – ISTJ
C. Sanguine – ESFP
D. Phlegmatic – INFP
5. DISC Assessments
The DISC personal assessment tool is often used by businesses to promote work productivity, teamwork, and communication. These types are labeled as:
D – Dominance, I – Influence, S – Steadiness, C – Conscientiousness (DISC). To keep the various assessments in line with the ones above, however, I will continue to put them in the same sequential order, rather than forming them into the DISC order:
A. Choleric – Dominance / D
B. Melancholic – Conscientiousness / C
C. Sanguine – Influence / I
D. Phlegmatic – Steadiness / S
6. Business Training Model Based on DISC
The “Take Flight Learning company makes the DISC categories even more accessible by giving them better descriptive names, and ascribing each DISC type with a bird’s name:
A. Choleric -Dominant -Eagles / D
B. Melancholic – Conscientious -Owls / C
C. Sanguine – Interactive -Parrots / I
D. Phlegmatic – Supportive -Doves / S
7. Entry Pointe Christian Profile Assessment
Christian writers might find the “Spiritual Office” assessment helpful for their writing genre.
8. Dressing Your Truth – Energy Profile
Carol Tuttle, author of Dressing Your Truth – Discover Your Type of Beauty, looks at the four temperaments as “energy types” and relates these to each types’ best clothing choice:
A. Choleric – Energy: hydrogen/fire Movement: active, reactive Clothing/Shapes: exotic, captivating, angular, textured, dynamic, edgy (a mistake for them to wear black colors) Label: Type 3
B. Melancholic: Energy: carbon/earth Movement: constant, still Clothing/Shapes: elongated ovals with straight sides, parallel lines in any direction Type: 4
C. Sanguine: Energy: nitrogen/air Movement: up, light Clothing/Shapes: colorful, festive/circles and points of a star Label: Type 1
D. Phlegmatic: Energy: oxygen/water Movement: fluid, flowing Clothing/Shapes: comfortable clothes, elongated S curves, ovals, softened rectangles Label: Type 2
Four Temperaments – Labels at a Glance